Tag Archives: PRISM

Fissures in support for the Surveillance State

By SB Anderson

Last week all but certainly will be looked back at as a watershed week in shifting support for the Surveillance State by not only U.S. citizens, but members of Congress.

For those who’ve been in eyes-half-open mode because it’s Summer and want to catch up, The New York Times today has a must-read on the politics and cross-party partnerships behind last week’s surprising oh-so-close vote in the House that would have killed funding for the National Security Administration’s telephone data collection, exposed by Edward Snowden.

Two quotes that stand out:

“There is a growing sense that things have really gone a-kilter here.”

“The time has come to stop it, and the way we stop it is to approve this amendment.”

The first, from U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who is helping craft a bill “to significantly rein in N.S.A. telephone surveillance,” the NYT story says.

The second is from someone who was a force behind the Patriot Act and who is helping Lofgren on that bill. — U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc. His very brief (and unexpected) remarks — seven sentences — before the House vote last week were seen as pivotal.

Govt Anti-Terror PoliciesMeantime, new research data shows the opinion shift among Americans. Almost half of those polled from July 17-21 said their “greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they have gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties,” Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported on Friday.

That was a 15-point jump since 2010, when the question was last asked. “This is the first time a plurality has expressed greater concern about civil liberties than security since the question was first asked in 2004.”

Nearly 3 in 5 of those adults surveyed — 56% — said courts aren’t providing the safety net needed for government data collection. “An even larger percentage (70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism,” Pew said.

Politically, a clear lean toward more support for civil liberties vs. national security since 2010 is pretty much across the board, as the chart below shows. Particularly noteworthy is the shift in the civil liberties v. national security view by Tea Party Republicans.

For the media, the public remains divided over how aggressive journalists should be in reporting on secret methods used to fight terrorism — 47% yes, 47% no. That’s the same as 2006. However, there has been a partisan shift, as Republicans now are much more supportive of an aggressive media role (+17 points), while Democrats have retreated (-14 points). See chart below.

In a column today, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, whose release of Snowden’s inside information along with the Washington Post detonated the current NSA and civil liberties controversy, took note of the shift in the Venn diagram of civil liberties and national security that Pew’s survey revealed.

As I’ve repeatedly said, the only ones defending the NSA at this point are the party loyalists and institutional authoritarians in both parties. That’s enough for the moment to control Washington outcomes – as epitomized by the unholy trinity that saved the NSA in the House last week: Pelosi, John Bohener and the Obama White House – but it is clearly not enough to stem the rapidly changing tide of public opinion.

(Note: If you’re interested, Pew has details on how it conducted its survey).

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night keeps the NSA from its appointed rounds of massive surveillance

By SB Anderson

A fascinating read in the New York Times today details the century-old “mail covers” program and the new “Mail Isolation Control and Tracking” initiative that essentially gather metadata about your snail mail with the same intentions of NSA programs such as PRISM that do that with your electronic communication.

Under the programs, “Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

“Together, the two programs show that snail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.”

Under mail covers, When asked by law enforcement, postal officials track a persons mail for a period of time. The post office rarely turns down a request, the Times says, and includes “tens of thousands” of items a year.

Mail Isolation Control and Tracking was born of the anthrax scare a few years ago. It photocopies the outside of mail — 160 billion pieces last year alone, the Times said.

“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, the former director of the Justice Department’s computer crime unit, who worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”

Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and an author, said whether it was a postal worker taking down information or a computer taking images, the program was still an invasion of privacy.

“Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents,” he said.

Full NYT story

When it comes to PRISM, whither Twitter? #mumstheword

By SB Anderson
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo visits with ASNE in Washington

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo visits with ASNE in Washington (Photo from C-SPAN video).

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo joined us for lunch on Wednesday at the American Society of News Editors conference in Washington and talked about journalism and its intersection with Twitter (and vice-versa); his company and its culture; privacy; and a few other topics.

But when it came to one hot topic in DC of late and  why Twitter wasn’t included on the now-famous PowerPoint slide about companies the NSA has relationships with for the top-secret PRISM user data collection program, Costolo pretty much had precisely 140 characters of nothing specific to say. With a hashtag of #mumstheword.

Asked  by Marty Baron of the Washington Post whether Twitter was “invited or instructed by the federal government to participate in this program, whether you chose to turn the government down, and if you did that based on legal objections, what were those legal objections,” Costolo wouldn’t take the bait.

He did, however, say Twitter is very aggressive and takes a “principled approach” when it comes to pushing back against government requests for large amounts of user data.

“When we get specific, pointed legal requests that are legally valid. . . we respond to them,” he said in reply to Baron’s question. “When we receive general requests that we feel are overly broad, not valid legal requests, we push back on those. I think it’s fair to say as has been reported in other cases like Wikileaks, we will spend time and energy and money to defend out users’ rights to be informed about the information that is being requested about them. . . That’s really all i can say about it.”

Earlier in his visit, interviewer Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post said, “It feels like we’re sort of dancing around this thing that’s all in caps called PRISM. You can’t talk so much about it.  . . .  Does it bother you you can’t talk more about your relationship with the government and these sorts of requests?”

His repsonse was much the same as what he told Baron.

He did note that he has talked publicly about a rule in the UK that makes it illegal to even disclose there’s an injunction in some situations, and called such rules “Kafkaesque. . . . Those kinds of things are generally disturbing and we have called for and would love to see more transparency around these types of requests.”

I’ve extracted the PRISM-related discussion from the hourlong Costolo chat (but the content isn’t available yet for embedding). View it here:

Google’s 1st Amendment lawsuit seeking public FISA data release

By SB Anderson

Here’s the motion that Google filed today with the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court saying it has a First Amendment right to release aggregate data on the number of requests it receives from the court for data and the number of accounts or users affected. It already releases similar details in its regular “transparency reports” about National Security Letter requests from the FBI.

“Google’s reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in
the media, and Google’s users are concerned by the allegations,” the petition says, referring to stories in the Guardian and Washington Post about the NSA’s PRISM program involving major online companies. “Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities. Moreover, these are matters of significant weight and importance, and transparency is critical to advancing public debate in a thoughtful and democratic manner.”

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – Motion for Declaratory Judgment by Liz Gannes of All Things D.

Most recent tallies of data and user requests authorities have made of online companies

By SB Anderson

Below is a summary of the latest data provided by the major online companies about how many requests they’d received from U.S. law enforcement agencies for user information. Google, Microsoft and most recently Twitter had regularly been releasing “transparency reports” with such data; Apple, Facebook and Yahoo released general data in recent weeks in response to the controversy over National Security Agency monitoring activities. Sources for each company are listed at the bottom.

APPLE 12/1/2012 to 5/31/2013 4,000-5,000 9,000-10,000 From federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters. The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.
FACEBOOK 7/1/2012 to 12/31/2012 9,000-10,000 18,000-19,000 From any and all government entities in the U.S. (including local, state, and federal, and including criminal and national security-related requests). These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat.
GOOGLE 7/1/2012 to 12/31/2012 8,438 14,791 Via Google Transparency Report. 69% from subpoena; 22% search warrant; 9% other, including court orders. Google is among the most forthcoming in details on government requests.
GOOGLE (NSL) 2012 0-999 1000–1999 Google is among a few who release National Security Letters data. The data can only legally be released in aggregate tiers of 999.
MICROSOFT 7/1/2012 to 12/31/2012 6,000-7,000 31,000-32,000 Criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders from U.S. governmental entities (including local, state and federal). Microsoft had been releasing regular transparency data, along with Google and most recently, Twitter.
MICROSOFT (NSL) 2012 0-999 1000–1999 Microsoft, like Google, releases annual data on National Security Letters. The data can only legally be released in aggregate tiers of 999.
TWITTER 7/1/2012 to 12/31/2012 815 1,145 Via Twitter Transparency report. 60% from subpoenas; 19% warrants; 11% court order.
YAHOO 12/1/2012 to 5/31/2013 12,000-13,000 N/A Includes criminal, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and other requests. The most common of these requests concerned fraud, homicides, kidnappings, and other criminal investigations.

Compiled by On the Beat from company releases.